Friday, May 9, 2014

Friday, May 9, 2014

Louisiana’s fight against predatory lenders gets national attention; Robert Mann, Karen Carter Peterson weigh in on budget problems; State loses appeal of nearly $240 million in Medicaid refunds; and Hard work is just not enough. $20 million — the amount spent by the payday lending industry on state-level campaign contributions over the last decade. (Source: Nonprofit Quarterly)

Louisiana’s fight against predatory lenders gets national attention
Even though, in the words of one legislator, lawmakers in Louisiana chose lobbyists over citizens in the fight against predatory lending practices, the issue continues to garner attention nationally. Most recently, Nonprofit Quarterly highlighted the issue, showing how much money payday lenders pump into the political process, through campaign donations and lobbyists. The story in Louisiana is telling. Nearly one out of every four households in Louisiana takes out a payday loan in a year. A coalition of church groups and consumer groups collaborated to promote a law, introduced by state senator Ben Nevers, to cap payday loan annual interest rates at 36 percent, far below the state average of 435 percent. As that idea failed to get sufficient support in the legislature, Nevers and his nonprofit allies came up with a different idea: to limit borrowers to no more than 10 payday loans a year. That idea also failed, against charges that Nevers and the advocates wanted to put the payday lending industry out of business in Louisiana.

Meanwhile, The Advocate’s Stephanie Grace uses her column to profile Nevers, who in addition to his work on payday lending reform has also championed a higher minimum wage and the expansion of Medicaid coverage to low-income adults. Nevers’ latest effort involves turning Gov. Bobby Jindal’s health-care ideas into a policy blueprint for Louisiana.

“Predictably given the Legislature’s overall leanings, most of his efforts have come to naught. There will be no increase in the state’s minimum wage, and the fight for new protections for those who take out high-interest payday loans remains uphill. And despite several attempts, the Legislature will not allow a statewide referendum on whether to override Jindal’s refusal to accept billions from the federal government to expand Medicaid. This one may make it through, judging by the committee’s response, but that doesn’t mean it will take hold.”

Robert Mann, Karen Carter Peterson weigh in on budget problems
As leaks have sprung up throughout the last few years’ state budgets, forcing mid-year cuts, hiring freezes and loans, Robert Mann says Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration has danced around the chronic issues with false assurances that everything is alright. In the meantime, the governor has used one-time money and budget gimmicks as duct tape to keep things afloat, a tactic which has left the state in a precarious position. “Just last week, he published an op-ed in Forbes in which he bragged, “we got our state’s fiscal house in order.” That begs the question, has Jindal been moonlighting as governor of another state?

“Because of Jindal’s stunning mismanagement of Louisiana’s budget, Washington may soon force Louisiana into something approaching insolvency. Perhaps that’s what he wants. After all, it would give him another reason to attack Washington and President Obama over health care. Until then, however, he and Nichols will continue pretending that everything is fine.”

State Sen. Karen Carter Peterson, meanwhile, has an op-ed in the Lafayette Advertiser  that says Louisiana’s budget problems are symptomatic of a deeper, more chronic economic malaise that continues to go unaddressed:

Louisiana is growing; it’s just that we’re growing at a slower rate than the rest of the country. While Louisiana’s GDP increased by 1.5 percent in 2012, the nation’s GDP increased by 2.5 percent. Our governor touts Louisiana’s unemployment numbers, but he fails to note that there are 16,000 more unemployed people in our state now compared to when he took office in January 2008. Another statistic that the governor does not mention is Louisiana’s ranking as worst in the nation for the percentage of our citizens living in poverty. About 21 percent of Louisianans live below the poverty line. Still our governor refuses to consider an increase to the state’s minimum wage to help working families climb out of poverty.

State loses appeal of nearly $240 million in Medicaid refunds
More bad news for Louisiana’s Department of Health and Hospitals. The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that the state cannot recoup $240 million in Medicare overpayments. The state returned the money to the federal government after the feds decided they had paid too much to the state for uninsured care provided by state hospitals.

Hard work is just not enough
From time to time, conservative pundits trot out a laundry list of electronics, amenities and luxuries owned by large numbers of low-income families to illustrate how these families don’t really need any help at all. But, as NPR points out, those gadgets are becoming more accessible, while the things that really allow families to pull themselves out of poverty — such as health care, child care and education — are moving further out of reach. “It used to be that if you were poor, you just didn’t have the basic things, like maybe you didn’t have a washer and dryer, and you were able to get by,” says Kelly Wells, a case manager for Pro Action, a nonprofit community action agency that’s trying to help Houser and others like her. “Now what I see with families is if you’re poor, you’re poor in every avenue: emotionally, supportwise, familywise,” Wells says.

$20 million — the amount spent by the payday lending industry on state-level campaign contributions over the last decade. (Source: Nonprofit Quarterly)